Most people readily agree that its important to “learn from mistakes.” In truth, however, few actually believe it. Mistakes are like cryptonite, making us feel and, more importantly, look stupid and weak. As a result, despite what we might advise others, we do our best to avoid making and admitting them. Such avoidance comes with a big cost: personal and professional growth stalls and even atrophies. We take on less challenging tasks, avoid taking risks, and give up more easily when confronted with situations that might expose our weaknesses. Far all that, falling a bit on “error-phobic” side of life is hardly an instance of irrationality. As Alina Tugend, author of Better by Mistake points out, “As much as people hate to make mistakes, they love pointing out the ones others have made.” Indeed, for most of us, the glee others take in pointing out our shortcomings only serves to compound our avoidance and deepen our public denial. And that’s what makes Tony Rousmaniere’s recent blogpost so unusual.
Briefly, Tony is a psychologist in private practice in San Francisco and Palo Alto. As he tells the story, he was riding in his car, listening to a recording of my presentation at the 2009 Evolution of Psychotherapy conference. The subject was “Achieving Clinical Excellence.” The message: routinely seeking feedback from clients about our mistakes decreases dropout rates and improves outcomes in psychotherapy. Tony took the message to heart. Unlike many of our peers who say they routinely ask clients for feedback, Tony actually downloaded the outcome and session rating scales and began formally asking his clients for feedback.
The story he relates makes for compelling reading, most of all because the feedback he received was not always easy to hear. And yet, he persisted, not only asking clients, but recording his work and then seeking input from colleagues. In the article, he gives step-by-step instructions for making use of the painful and sometimes confusing and contradictory feedback one receives.
Tony’s willingness to share his experience makes it tempting to say he is one brave soul. In actuality, he’s pragmatic. He placed outcomes over image. As he reports in the article, his dropout rate has plummeted and his outcomes improved. I say, “Bravo!”
If you are thinking of writing to tell me that I misspelled the word, “cyptonite” (the accepted spelling is kryptonite), don’t bother. I know. I did it on purpose. See what I mean?!